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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in ancient history

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

I think it's about time I dedicate a full post to the subject of the worship of Hekate in ancient Hellas. Most of what a Google search will find on this magnificent Goddess is based upon later sources, or are moderately recent inventions. Note that I have no problem with that: I believe the Theoi can change--especially in the eyes of the people who worship Them--and one of the ways They do so is by the practice of epithets. So, in my personal practice, this dark version of Hekate is an epithet of Her that I respect, but do not offer sacrifice to. It's 'Threefold Hekate': beautiful and powerful in Her own right, but completely unknown to the ancient Hellenes. Yet, even in the time of the ancient Hellenes, Hekate's domains were entirely re-invented, so to say She would not have changed after the fall of the Hellenic empire seems not only futile to me, but disrespectful to a very adaptable Titan Goddess.

Hekate's (Ἑκατη) worship was most likely imported from Thrace or Anatolia, where--especially at the latter--records were found of children being named after Her. This version of Her is single-faced, rules in heaven, on the earth, and in the sea, is a Theia of childbirth--to both animals and humans--and it is She who bestows wealth on mortals, victory, wisdom, good luck to sailors and hunters, and prosperity to youth and to the flocks of cattle. Yet, if mortals do not deserve Her gifts, she can withhold them from them just as easily. After the Titanomachy, Zeus bestowed upon Her the highest of honors. This is the Hekate found in Hesiod's Theogony, written around 700 BC:

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Thank you for sharing!
  • Constance Tippett Chandler
    Constance Tippett Chandler says #
    Wonderful! Do you have something on the Muse. As an artist I work with Her alot. Can't wait!
  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance says #
    I'm glad you liked it :-) I have actually written quite a bit about the muses: http://baringtheaegis.blogspot.nl/search/label/Mus

A very good friend of mine lost someone tonight, and came to me for spiritual advice on how to deal with this grief. He is not Hellenistic, but values the lessons of Hellenismos on life and religion, and as such, he wanted to hear about funerary traditions within Hellenismos, and ancient Hellenic practice. What came out what a bit of a rambled Facebook message that was vague enough for interpretation but was anywhere from complete. As such, I write this today--in a hurry before an appointment--with love and sorrow in my heart, for a friend who suffers, and a young girl who lost her life.

The ancient Hellenes believed that the moment a person died, their psyche--spirit--left the body in a puff or like a breath of wind. Proper burial was incredibly important to the ancient Hellenes, and to not give a loved one a fully ritualized funeral was unthinkable. It was, however, used as punishment of dead enemies, but only rarely. Funerary rites were performed solely to get the deceased into the afterlife, and everyone who passed away was prepared for burial according to time-honored rituals.

A burial or cremation had four parts: preparing the body, the prothesis (Προθησις, 'display of the body'), the ekphorá (ἐκφορά 'funeral procession'), and the interment of the body or cremated remains of the deceased. Preparation of the body was always done by women, and was usually done by a woman over sixty, or a close relative who was related no further away from the deceased than the degree of second cousin. These were also the only people in the ekphorá. The deceased was stripped, washed, anointed with oil, and then dressed in his or her finest clothes. They also received jewelry and other fineries. A coin could be presented to the dead, and laid under or below the tongue, or even on the eyes, as payment to Kharon.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Coming of age ceremonies are prevalent in most cultures and are often linked to the religious views of the people performing it. Famous examples are the bar mitswa's and bat mitswa's of the Jewish. The ancient Hellens had coming of age rituals as well, and like almost everything else in ancient Hellenic life, these rituals were tied into deity worship. Today, I'm going to talk about these coming of age ceremonies, but because the differences are so great between girls and boys, I'm going to describe their coming of age ceremonies separately.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
On top of the Acropolis, the oxen are released from the temple of Zeus Polieus. Outside, put out in sacrifice to the mighty Protector of the City, lie cakes on a table, and the oxen sniff them readily as they are herded past them. Nearby, two women with bowls of water in their hands stand by a man who is sharpening an axe and knife, using the water sporadically to cool and clean the blades. They watch as the third oxen in line reaches for one of the cakes with eager lips, devouring the sweet product merrily. One of the nearby men shouts at the ox, and--enraged at the cow's desecration--rushes to the man who is sharpening his weapons. He grabs the double-bladed axe and with one big swing, ends the life of the ox. As the ox falls dead on the ground, the Ox-Slayer realizes what he has done, and drops the axe in mortification. As fast as his legs can carry him, he flees the scene. 
 
Those who have witnessed the events rush to butcher the slain animal and sacrifice it properly to Zeus Polieus. All who witnessed the slaying, eat the flesh of the murdered ox. The hide of the ox is stuffed with hay and sewn closed. The filled skin is put in front of a yoke, out in the field. Afterwards, a hunt begins for the murderer of Zeus' sacred ox. He is found, eventually, and brought to trial. The man says it was not his fault he slew the animal; the man who had been sharpening the axe should not have been there. If he had not been there, he would never have been able to slay the ox. And so, the sharpener is heard. He, also, pleads innocence: if the women with the water had not been there, he could not have sharpened the axe, and he would not have been there. The women are called to explain themselves. They, too, claim the death of the ox is not their fault: they would not have been there if the axe had not needed sharpening. And so, the axe is heard, as well as the knife used to cut up the animal, but the objects remain silent. Because they will not defend themselves, they are found guilty of the murder of the ox, and as punishment, are tossed off of a cliff, into the sea below.


Every year on the fourteenth day of Skirophorion, from the time of Erechtheus (1397 - 1347 BC) to--at least--the second century AD, this odd ritual was reenacted. It was called the 'Bouphónia' (βουφόνια), and was part of another festival; the 'Dipolieia' (τὰ Διπολίεια), a feast in honor of Zeus Polieus (Zeus of the City).

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  • B. T. Newberg
    B. T. Newberg says #
    Hi Elani. I was wondering if you might help me with a project. I'm writing a history of possible forms of Naturalistic Paganism

An altar is one of those basic necessities within Hellenismos, and it differs from a shrine. Where an altar is a 'work space', dedicated not so much to a specific deity, but used to do the bulk of the (daily) rituals, a shrine is a devotional area where an altar might be located. In ancient Hellas, the shrine was usually a temple, the altar an actual altar, standing outside of it. Household worship took place at a multitude of shrines.

Labeling something a shrine, does not mean you can't sacrifice at these spots in your home; every Hene Kai Nea and Noumenia, I offer libations of mixed wine and incense at my shrine to Apollon, Hermes and Hekate, every Noumenia, I offer mixed wine and incense to Zeus Kthesios at His shrine in my kitchen, and ever Agathós Daímōn, I make a libation of unmixed wine at His shrine. As explained previously, I don't have an outdoor altar; I have one indoors, and it also houses my continual flame to Hestia. It's at this shrine I do the bulk of my worship--it's my hearth. It has my offering bowl, and is very deity-neutral, just to make sure everyone I give sacrifice to might feel at home at it. It's located in my bedroom shrine--the actual space, decorated and kept clean for the Theoi.

My altar is not the altar the ancient Hellens would have used. For one, it's not outside--something I'm grateful for as it's snowing outside at the moment--and for another, it's not made of stone. I don't make a fire on top of it--a good thing, seeing as it's made of wood--but have to use a bowl to do so. In ancient Hellas, an altar was called a 'bômos' (βωμός)--properly signifying any elevation--with an 'epipuron' (ἐπίπυρον)--a movable pan or brazier--used on top of the bômos so it could serve as an altar for burnt-offerings. The household hearth was used to make sacrifices as well, and thus served as an altar of sorts. It was named after the Theia of the home and hearth: 'hestía' (ἑστία). Some state-owned altars--especially when they were simply large fires--were named 'hestía' as well.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs

2412 years ago, one of Hellas' greatest thinkers stood trial before a jury of 500 men, chosen by lot. Socrates (Σωκράτης), a philosopher who was of the opinion that people should not be self-governing; they needed to be led, like a shepherd led a flock of sheep. He was of the opinion that the average Athenian had the basic virtue necessary to nurture a good society, nor the intelligence to foster such virtue within themselves. As such, he was against the democratic system that came to fruition in the city of Athens at the same time he did.

His views came from an oracular message from Delphi. In the words of Diogenēs Laertios (Διογένης Λαέρτιος), a biographer of the Hellenic philosophers:

"And it was in consequence of such sayings and actions as these, that the priestess at Delphi was witness in his favour, when she gave Chaerephon this answer, which is so universally known:
 
Socrates of all mortals is the wisest.
 
In consequence of which answer, he incurred great envy; and he brought envy also on himself, by convicting men who gave themselves airs of folly and ignorance, as undoubtedly he did to Anytus; and as is shown in Plato's Meno. For he, not being able to bear Socrates' jesting, first of all set Aristophanes to attack him, and then persuaded Melitus to institute a prosecution against him, on the ground of impiety and of corrupting the youth of the city."
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Posted by on in Paths Blogs

On the second day of the new Hellenistic month, we give sacrifice to (the) Agathós Daímōn, on a day named after the 'Good Spirit'. It's an important practice, and I have come to realize I don't know enough about Agathós Daímōn to do His worship justice. This is why this Pagan Blog Project post delves into His worship.

The mythology, application and existence of the Agathós Daímōn (ἀγαθός δαίμων) is a bit of a muddled mess. When one researches the term, six basic premises emerge:

  • The Agathós Daímōn is a Theos, married to the Theia Agathe Tyche (Ἀγαθή Τύχη, 'Good Fortune')
  • The Agathós Daímōn is an epithet of Zeus, or linked to Zeus Kthesios and/or Zeus Melichios
  • The Agathós Daímōn is linked Hermes Chthonius
  • The Agathós Daímōn is a fertility daimon, tied to the harvest and prosperity from agriculture
  • The Agathós Daímōn is a personal guardian spirit, either tied to the person, the family, or the oikos
  • The Agathós Daímōn is the personification of a person's conscious, or even their muse
Confused yet? Gods know I am. 
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